It’s days before the curtain rises on the 65th annual Grammy awards ceremony and producer Ben Winston is putting the finishing touches on the production.
“I was doing the table plans last night, which is always a funny thing,” Winston said during a brief respite in between his obligations at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. “It’s like a bar mitzvah or a wedding, only you’re plotting where people like Beyoncé, Adele and the Rock are going to sit. Who’s Cardi B gonna be next to? It’s really fun.”
Because of myriad logistical considerations, Winston, the mastermind of the production alongside producing partner Raj Kapoor, calls it one of the hardest shows in television to put together.
“You’ve got 19 performers or so – and all of them are A-list with dancers, choirs, orchestras – and then how to work out how to build Harry Styles’s set in three minutes, which then has to clear the way for Lizzo’s set,” he said.
According to Winston, work doesn’t begin until after the nominations are released in November, which is when artists begin to commit. This year, all eyes are on Beyoncé as she could become the most awarded artist in Grammy history with nine nominations this year, with Kendrick Lamar, Adele and Brandi Carlile all competing in multiple categories.
“From the day the nominations are announced, that gives us eight weeks to put this together,” says Winston, adding with a laugh: “A school play wouldn’t even be made in eight weeks.”
This year’s performers reflect the strong commercial slate of nominees after a year of blockbuster records, major comebacks and sold-out tours. Styles is slated to sing his song As It Was, the longest-running No 1 song by a UK act in the history of the US charts, and the fourth-longest in general. Bad Bunny, the world’s most streamed artist whose Un Verano Sin Ti became the first Spanish-language album of the year nominee, is also set to take the stage. Joining them include the likes of Mary J Blige, Sam Smith and Brandi Carlile.
Tributes include Kacey Musgraves honoring the late Loretta Lynn, while the rapper Quavo will take part in a performance for his late Migos counterpart Takeoff as well. There will also be a salute to the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, curated by LL Cool J and featuring a who’s who of the genre’s brightest stars and innovators, among them Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, Big Boi and DJ Jazzy Jeff.
Proving the last-minute nature of the show, Winston teased that an additional artist was only confirmed on Wednesday night. “It’s someone who isn’t a nominee who I really wanted and I kept on holding out hope they would pull through,” he says. “Now we’re building their set and getting a band together.” On Friday, it was announced that Jay-Z would perform with special guests including DJ Khaled and John Legend.
While the Grammys broadcast managed to soldier through the Covid era, the most recent traditional show in Los Angeles occurred in January 2020, just as the virus was beginning to trickle through the west coast. The 2021 ceremony, Winston’s first time at the helm of the show, was a muted and scaled-back affair, while 2022 saw the production hightail it to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas as Los Angeles was still grappling with virus restrictions.
But with the pandemic era seemingly in the rear view at least for some, this year’s source of drama returns to the music and the current slate of contenders, including what could be a historic night for Beyoncé. The singer needs to win just four awards on Sunday to become the most awarded artist in Grammy history.
In addition, Beyoncé is also vying for the elusive trifecta of record, song and album of the year, the third time she’s been recognized in all three categories simultaneously. But there is trepidation as the Grammys attempt to shake a reputation as both out of touch and lacking in diversity. For album of the year alone, Beyoncé previously lost out to Taylor Swift, Beck and Adele, the latter voicing her own concerns upon her win.
“Of course Beyoncé could break a record, and that’d be an amazing moment both in music and as a producer, where you’d like to make moments of live TV where significant things happen,” says Winston, who will have a watchful eye on the proceedings from a truck parked outside, with a connection on stage to host Trevor Noah through an earbud.
“The show is going to be really packed and strong,” he says. “When you have albums like we’ve had, it’s a gift in a massive way. And also quite nerve-racking.”